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Law Camp Students Put Grim Reaper On Trial

© Leesburg Today - 06/26/2015

Summer camp for two dozen high school students this week meant leaving the sunscreen and bug spray at home to instead tote briefcases and don suits.

There was no time for lanyard making or kumbaya around a bonfire. This was law camp.

Students interested in getting a firsthand look at the legal process took part in the Leadership in the Law Summer Camp, started by Judge Thomas D. Horne 15 years ago. The program gives students a chance to participate in a mock criminal case by taking on the roles of prosecuting or defense attorneys. Campers spent four days crafting their cases for trial Friday.

""Every night we have around two hours of free time to do whatever we want, and we've just spent all that time going over and preparing for the trial,"" Alyssa Grzesiak, a rising high school senior, said. ""We have some really dedicated groups.""

The storyline behind the faux case changes each year.

In Horne's courtroom Friday, the case involved a local college Halloween party that ended in a student's death. He died after consuming an alcoholic drink spiked with a lethal dose of ecstasy, served to him by a person dressed in a grim reaper costume.

The prosecutors argued that the young man's classmate, Mickey Finn, served him the drink. They said the costume and the vial containing the traces of the drug was later found under Finn's bed.

It was obvious the defense team did their homework. While the prosecution presented its case, the defense attorneys objected everything from a series of leading questions and the relevancy of information to claims of possible hearsay. Horne, who sustained several of the objections, commended the defense attorneys-for-a-day for their work and said the case ""had the most objections out of any mock trial I've ever participated in.""

The jurors ultimately handed down an innocent verdict for Finn. But Horne was quick to congratulate the students on both sides of the case for their thoroughness, dedication and knowledge of the evidence.

The students' know-how did not come without a lot of hard work, however.

Camper Liesl Matter said she and her team studied the case late into the evenings.

""We ended up losing a lot of sleep those first few nights just working on the case and going over the evidence, but it was so worth it,"" she said. ""It made me feel really proud and excited, like I was playing out 'Law & Order.'""

Employees of Loudoun County's court system and other community leaders, including Middleburg Mayor Betsy Davis and Middleburg Councilmember Catherine Murdock, volunteered to play the roles of witnesses and jurors. Practicing attorneys also gave up a big part of their week to mentor the aspiring lawyers.

Other law camp participants were: Colin Gilchrist, Kathryn Berry, Kristen Kelly, Jared Levin, Iman Fatimah Hussain, Joshua Stevenson, Mary Offutt, Sharon Blevins, Abhinav Kumar, Edward Calley, Keara Callahan, Michaela Ogedegbe, Kiran Sweatte, Justin Csehoski, Harleen Kaur, Sarah Shah, John Hoffer, Juliana Rodgers, Mia Velasquez, Rahmet Rahimi and Olivia Settle.

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